Incarceration Nation

Tom Manning: A Short Biography

Tom Manning was a freedom fighter, political prisoner and prolific artist. His paintings are stories that jump off the page, revealing the outlook of people who struggle for liberation around the world. His book (now out of print) contains over 80 full-color paintings that were made between 1996 and 2005. Political Prisoner Tom Manning died in captivity July 31, 2019 at the age of 73.

“...Revolution is never begun anew, only continued where others left off...” —Tom Manning

Boston born and raised in a large, Irish working class family-never enough money though. My father worked day and night—with sleep in between. His only days off were when he was hurt or some crisis in the family. A longshoreman and a postal clerk—he worked himself to death trying to get one end to meet the other. He never did make ends meet—that would be a cycle and capitalism is not made that way—he always got the worst end.

As kids we tried to help where we could. I shined shoes and sold newspapers in the subways and the bars, otherwise I spent my time like most kids in the neighborhood roaming the docks and freight yards looking for anything that could be converted into cash, bartered, or used in some way. Also playing stickball and raising pigeons. As I grew older, I worked as a stock boy, then construction laborer until joining the military in ’63; Cuba in ’64; Vietnam in ’65-66.

Back on the streets for a minute, then state prison for five years—armed robbery and assault and battery. Given the area where I grew up and being a ’Nam vet, prison was par for the course. I ran into a lot of boyhood friends and veterans inside. I became somewhat politicized in prison, taking part in food and work strikes, being around people willing to teach and organize at great personal risk. I spent my last 14 months in Walpole’s 10 Block, where I first read Ché, and where all the prisoners—Black, Brown, and white—were united out of necessity—in contrast to general population in the prison and in the city of Boston.

I completed my sentence in May of ’71—took one quick tour of the old streets, and headed for the country, the woods, and small towns of Northern New England, where I met Carol, married, and had a child, the first of three. Jeremy, Tamara, and Jonathan. The second two came during our ten years underground. In Portland, Maine we became active in a prisoner’s rights organization named SCAR, whose work was done by and for prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their loved ones.

The work was rapidly expanding into all areas of the community, finding jobs and housing for people coming out, trying to stay out, support and welfare advocacy transportation to the prisons for visiting, childcare, organizing young people, a bail fund, a book store.

With this work and the study it required, it became increasingly clear who got the best end, at whose expense, and what was needed also became clear—socialism—a system where ends meet. The bosses oppose this system with a vengeance. They attack it with their armies and police. The People must fight for their own system in all ways—one of these being armed 
clandestine struggle. We have a long way to go, but we are getting there. 

I was captured in 1985, sentenced to 58 years in federal prison for a series of bombings carried out as armed propaganda against apartheid in South Africa, U.S. imperialism in Latin and Central America, including a concerted campaign against Mobil Oil and U.S. military targets in solidarity with the FALN’s (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional—English: Armed Forces of National Liberation) campaign for the release of the five Nationalist prisoners—and, against racist, genocidal capitalism here in the belly of the beast. I’m also sentenced to 80 years—two 25 to life, plus 20 for armed robbery, plus ten for escape—in New Jersey for the self-defense killing of a state trooper.

At present I am at the U.S penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas where I am classified as a high max prisoner restricted to a high accountability status (orange card) that requires me to be checked in every two hours during the daytime and evening hours. I am forced to work in the prison print shop, which has a higher security than any other job shop. And if I refuse or get fired from this job, I’ll be returned to the hole.

This is the first prison I’ve been held in where I can walk around un-handcuffed and un-shackled. The prison authorities, because of my political beliefs and affiliations, have declared me a “threat to the secure and orderly running” of their prison system. As a result, I have spent the last 12 years in continual lockdown, from the control unit in New Jersey to U.S.P. Marion 
in Illinois, and ADX Super-max in Florence, Colorado.

I stand accused of being a part of the Sam Melville/Jonathan Jackson unit in the 1970s and the United Freedom Front in the 1980’s. I am proud of the association and all that it implies...

Tom Manning: A Short Biography, 1999